Patriotic Songs to celebrate for this 4th of July:

I was a little late getting this posted for the upcoming holiday, but there is still time for anyone looking to expand their patriotic repertoire! I’ve put together a list of patriotic songs as well as service songs and songs that became popular around World War II. My older adults love singing these songs and these songs can help facilitate memory recall and song discussions during my music therapy groups. One song in particular, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” may trigger a lot of memories for group members due to the song describing a young man going off to war and asking his sweetheart to remain faithful until his return.

I also love incorporating movement and various percussion instruments into patriotic sing-a-longs since these songs typically have a strong beat which is easy for everyone to follow. In some songs, such as “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” scarves can also be utilized to help target movement among group members and following directions.

During the sing-a-long I may also first play an instrumental recording of the songs we are about to sing, to see if anyone can identify the song and “name that tune.” Then after a group member identifies the tune, we can all sing the song together as a group with song packets. This is another great way for group members to work on memory recall and cognition.

Here’s a list of patriotic songs for this 4th of July:

Patriotic Songs

  1. “My country Tis of Thee”
  2. “America the Beautiful”
  3. “God Bless America”
  4. “Star Spangled Banner”

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    Photo by Brett Sayles on
  5. “Yankee Doodle”
  6. “Yankee Doodle Boy”
  7. “You’re A Grand Old Flag”
  8. “The Cassion Song”
  9. “The US Coast Guard Song”
  10. “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
  11. “Stars and Stripes Forever”
  12. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”
  13. “God Bless the USA”



What are some patriotic songs you’ll be singing with your clients and/or family this 4th of July?



Exercising The Body and Mind Through Drumming

In music therapy groups as well as individual music therapy sessions, I find that drumming is a great way to work on several goals/skills simultaneously.  We are all rhythmic beings, and we all have an internal rhythm. Without realizing it we unconsciously tap our feet along to our favorite songs, we walk in rhythm and we even talk in rhythm.  Rhythmic activities are great ways to help target motor functioning, speech and language, as well as cognition.

Drumming is a fun and great way to help improve general motor functioning.  When striking a drum with drum sticks or hands, an individual is exercising their range of motion. Drums can also be positioned in a functional way to target specific functional movements such as crossing midline or working on reaching with a non-dominant arm. Keeping up with a steady beat can even help improve physical endurance and strength. One major difference of drumming vs. traditional exercise is that you are getting that immediate auditory feedback whenever the drum is being played, which in turn, can help motivate you to keep going.

The very elements of speech are even rhythmic. Syllables in words and sentences become rhythmic patterns and structures.  Music itself is just like speech except words are elongated and pitches fluctuate more frequently. For someone who stuffers with aphasia or has general difficulty with expressive communication, drumming and rhythm can be used to help improve initiation of speech, articulation, and intelligibility. Rhythm and music are all very predictable, structural, and planned, which allows the individual to anticipate the rhythm and synchronize it with their speech.


Drumming and rhythmic exercises are also great for cognition and executive functioning skills. During a call and response activity, an individual would have to listen and be able to repeat a specific rhythm or rhythmic sequence, which targets attention skills and memory recall.

I think the best thing about drumming is that there are no wrong notes!  Drums are approachable versus instruments that have notes or strings.  Drums are easy to learn for people who may never played an instrument before and there are so many different types of drums you can use!  You can use frame drums, djembes, tubanos, or cajons, etc..  Having many different types of drums offers several options and different options allows individuals to find a drum that they are comfortable with.  For anyone that may have physical limitations, I also always want to be able to modify or adapt the equipment I am using to make it a successful  experience for that individual.

I have recently been implementing a new group with my older adults using exercise balls. It sounds kind of silly to drum on exercise balls, but it creates a fun, relaxing, and approachable music therapy group for everyone no matter their musical experience. I use exercise balls as drums and place them on top of square laundry baskets to help stabilize them and keep the balls from moving while group members hit the exercise balls with drum sticks. In this group we are all in a circle and group members must watch me and follow my rhythmic patterns and sequences while we drum to live or recorded music. This group is both a mind and body workout. My older adults really seem to enjoy it!



Anything can be turned into a drum! Drumming and rhythmic activities are great ways to keep us exercising our body and minds no matter our age or abilities!



Neurologic Music Therapy: A Neuroscience Approach

“The brain that engages in music is changed by engaging in music.”

                                                                                                                  –Michael Thaut

Did you know that when we engage in music, whether it is singing, actively listening, or playing an instrument, all areas of the brain are activated? It’s pretty amazing. Areas of the brain where speech and language is processed as well as emotions, executive functioning, and motor functioning are all stimulated. This means that your body has an innate response to music, and is activated to respond in predictable ways based on musical input and interaction.

For those of you who are not familiar with Neurologic Music Therapy, I would love to take the time to share with you this amazing specialized field of music therapy. Neurologic Music Therapy is quite a different approach from traditional music therapy. NMT (Neurologic Music Therapy) was researched and developed by the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy in Fort Collins, Colorado. The first certification program of NMT was held in 1999.  Since then, Neurologic Music Therapy has been growing fast within the healthcare profession.

The founder of NMT, Michael Thaut and his wife (co-founder) Corene Hurt-Thaut, continue to teach the Neurologic Music Therapy Training Institute all over the world and it is endorsed by the World Federation of Neurorehabilitation, the European Federation of Neurorehabilitation Societies, and by the International Society for Clinical Neuromusicology. The training institute is also approved by The American Music Therapy Association.

So what exactly is the difference between Music Therapy and Neurologic Music Therapy?

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is based upon neuroscience research and provides specific, individualized, and standardized interventions for those affected by neurologic injury or disease.  NMT differs from traditional Music Therapy as it views music not as a social science model for well-being, but as a neuroscience model, where music is a hard-wired brain language.

NMT is the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions due to neurologic disease of the human nervous system.  Treatment techniques are based on the scientific knowledge of music perception and production and the effects thereof nonmusical brain and behavior functions.

Neurologic Music Therapy focuses on using music to help train functional skills and build pathways in the brain for better communication, coordinated motor movements and cognitive skills.

Neurological Music Therapy focuses on 3 key goal areas:

1. Speech & Language        2. Sensorimotor        3. Cognition

Speech & Language

When speech is lost due to brain damage, often the ability to sing is still present. NMT can be used for injuries and/or diseases such as Aphasia, Stroke, and Apraxia. NMT can help reverse the damage done through a series of specialized interventions such as Musical Speech Stimulation, Vocal Intonation Therapy, and Melodic Intonation Therapy. Using techniques such as Melodic Intonation Therapy and Rhythmic Speech Cueing, clients can regain functional phrases through singing the phrases.

Vocal quality can also help be improve through Therapeutic Singing techniques and Rhythmic Speech Cueing to help clients speak more clearly and in an audible volume.


NMT can also target gait, gFullSizeRender_3ross and fine motor skills. Elements of music such as rhythm, meter, pitch, dynamics, and melody can be used in NMT techniques to help improve motor coordination and motor planning which in turn help improve functional motor movements and patterns. One particular technique called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation is used for Stroke patients in gait training. The technique uses rhythmic cues to retrain client’s walking patterns to be more safe and functional.


Cognitive skills such as sustained attention, multi-tasking, decision making, planning and strategizing, and memory can be improved for clients with Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Psychiatric Disorders, or Dementia using NMT techniques. NMT interventions are created to practice and retrain cognitive skills through interactive music making experiences.


The training is open to Board-Certified Music Therapists as well as music therapy students, and other health care professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.  Individuals who take the training and are not music therapist, can only teach in their scope of practice using these techniques, this training does not allow you to call yourself a music therapist if you are not Board-Certified.

For those of you who are music therapists, I strongly encourage you to attend this training at some point in your career and/or purchase the book “The Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy.” I am so thankful for being introduced to NMT while I attended college at Western Michigan University because it helped shape my career goals and knowledge as a music therapist.

For more information about Neurologic Music Therapy feel free to contact me or browse The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy Website.

Here is a link if you wish to purchase the “Handbook for Neurologic Music Therapy.”



Music Is Science.


Invoking Holiday Memories with Music: St. Patrick’s Day


St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner which has me thinking about Irish songs.  In some of my music therapy sessions, I like to use my own songbooks. I try to create songbooks that have a specific theme or specific genre of music, such as “Patriotic Songs,” “Love Songs, “Spring Time Songs, or even “St. Patrick’s Day Songs.”  It makes it easier for my older adults to be able to follow along during sing-a-longs and it also helps with awareness, such as orienting them to the season, month, or holiday. For someone who may have dementia, they may forget that it is March, and that we are getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. So having a music therapy session based on a theme like a “St. Patrick’s Day Sing-a-long,” is a great way to reinforce times of the year and help orient them to the “here and now.”

Another great reason for having a song book for your group members is because this will then be a visual of what you will be singing in group. Visuals are always helpful for encouraging people to participate as well as help everyone feel connected in the group. Visuals and song lyrics are especially helpful if someone is hard of hearing within the group.

During music therapy sessions, I also really enjoy song discussions after the group sings a familiar tune together. Typically, I will try to encourage group members to reflect on the song and share personal stories or memories associated with that song. This may prompt another group member to share something, which will then increase social interaction among the group members.

I’ve been prepping for some Irish themed music therapy sessions and was able to compile a list of tunes. I’m looking forward to hearing my older adult’s memories/stories of these old Irish tunes!

Here’s a list of Irish songs I’ll be singing with my older adults this St. Patrick’s Day:

  1. “Danny Boy”
  2. “Harrigan”
  3. “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”
  4. “The Minstrel Boy”
  5. “My Bonnie”
  6. “Peg O’ My Heart”
  7. “Wild Irish Rose”
  8. “Molly Malone”
  9. “Rose of Tralee”
  10. “Sweet Rosie O’Grady”
  11. “Irish Lullaby”
  12. “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”
  13. “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover”
  14. “Galway Bay”


What are some of your favorite Irish tunes to sing?